the awesome stuff is underneath

The first time I set foot in 8006 Foster last June, it looked like a lawnmower repair shop, which is what it had been for 60ish years.  Peeling plaster on the walls and ceiling, a sagging “mezzanine”, engine fumes, and what I guess you’d call a bathroom (a toilet in a closet). By my second visit, not more than a few days later, the bulk of the plaster had been peeled away to reveal the warm 90-year-old brick walls. The removal of the ceiling had begun, and as we walked the long narrow space, I could see glimpses of colors and letters on the original rafters. When the building was constructed in 1923, an old circus billboard (likely from the side of a barn) was reused as trusses. If you look closely, you can read the words and see faces of tigers, monkeys, and people. Fascinating and beautiful.

As we began the design process to turn the space into a spa, it became apparent that we would not be able to leave the rafters exposed. And since taking them down and replacing them was not an option either, we decided the best way to capture and display them would be with photography. So I called on a photographer friend to help. Through the magic (or strangeness) of Facebook, though I hadn’t seen Allyson in years, we were still “in touch”. As I worked as her assistant, handing her different lenses and different cameras as she balanced on top of a very tall, rickety ladder, I kept thinking, “how does she know how to do this?” When she was finished shooting and I was giving her a tour of the space, showing her the lounge, the lockers, the showers, she turned to me and said, “how do you know how to do this?”

When all I ever hear is how I could be “better” (Shinier hair! Younger skin! Flatter abs! Nicer house! More organized!) I forget all of the things I DO have to offer. I have to remind myself that there is no one else with my story, my experiences, my personality, my relationships, my place in the world. And if I don’t take the time to think about that, process that, and then USE that, I’m cheating myself and the world out of the contribution only I can make. Will it be a cure for cancer? Probably not. But even if all I do is offer comfort or advice to someone by sharing myself honestly with them, that works for me.

I often find myself thinking, “why are people so messed up? Why is everyone medicated? Why are we so cruel to each other?” While I would never pretend the answers are easy, I know that disconnection is a dangerous thing. Our mental health as humans depends on fulfilling relationships. And fulfilling relationships are difficult, if not impossible, when I’m constantly underestimating my own value.

When you’re tired of hearing the voices promising you a better you, we’d like to be your escape. Instead of reminding you that you could be “better”, we’ll encourage you to be more of who you already are; to figure out what part of your story will encourage others and then decide to share it. Because we’ve learned that usually, the awesome stuff is underneath.

© 2019 by Ashley Smith & Milagro Midwestern Spa Collective